Mediterranean Adventures: Tips for Traveling Abroad

Mediterranean Adventures: Tips for Traveling Abroad

Posted by WinterWomen on Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The ability to travel is a precious gift.

Growing up with my stepdad in the Air Force, I moved around--a lot. From Massachusetts to Hawaii to Colorado, I have lived in various regions in the U.S. In college, I was fortunate enough to study abroad for a semester in Italy, where every weekend was spent with short 24-48 hour visits in a new city or country.

So, I couldn't believe my luck this past year when I found out that I had won a 12-day Mediterranean Cruise--who actually wins those types of contests?! It was a two week trip on the Regal Princess, a brand-spankin' new mega-ship that took my cousin and I on a whirlwind adventure starting in Spain, stopping in France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and ending back in Italy.

With nine months to prepare for this trip (and experience living and traveling in Europe), I was able to get everything organized that I might have needed for the trip, and felt confident about my preparations the morning I flew out of Denver and on to Barcelona. Despite my unfamiliarity with cruising (prior to this trip, I had no desire to cruise, thanks to awful news stories of ships falling ill, losing electricity, sinking, etc.), the Princess cruise line did a wonderful job of making us feel comfortable and safe, while still offering a luxurious, pampered experience.

However, I knew I needed to be prepared to face any type of unexpected obstacle that might arise off the ship. On this particular cruise schedule, most of our port stops were around 12 hours or less, and some of our destinations were one or more hours away from the port. This meant you had to be prepared for a full day of travel when exiting the ship in the morning--no questions asked!

When visiting different countries (especially when trying to pack as many activities in as possible in a short amount of time), there are bound to be some complications that pop up; and although there's no way to fully prepare for every situation out there, making sure the small things are in check will help keep you grounded and calm in case of any obstacle that emerges.

My cousin Kristen and I were lucky to have a smooth, low-stress trip due to some important factors we kept in mind when preparing for our trip. Below are my must-remember tips for traveling abroad in Europe. If you're headed abroad soon, keep these tips in mind to help you have as much of a smooth, stress-free vacation as possible!

Carry Cash (Local Currency)

Carrying cash while traveling in Europe is a MUST. Although you don't want to carry hundreds with you at a time, make sure to have some handy (and a little extra) for any type of unexpected expense--like using the restroom. Not all places in Europe charge to use public restroom, but when you are in a touristy-area of a city that does, like Venice, having cash is a necessity in order to do something we take for granted here in the U.S.

Although these pay toilets usually have someone who can exchange larger bills for smaller bills, you're better off carrying smaller coins ($.50 euro and $1 euro coins) to make the process go easier (and faster).

Familiarize Yourself with Local Language

I can't stress enough how important it is to know common and helpful words and phrases to help you get around in case you need any help or assistance from a local. Unfortunately, you can't easily pull out your iPhone and use Google Translate when you need to communicate with someone who does not speak English.

Writing down a few helpful phrases and words ("hello," "please," "thank you," "where is __," etc.) before venturing out in a new country with a new language is very beneficial. Keep it folded up in your bag for easy access whenever you need a quick language refresher.

Dress Appropriately and Respectfully

In the heat of the summer, it's hard to think about wearing anything but a tank top and shorts. However, it's important to keep in mind the cultural clothing standards of different countries, whether it's based on style or religion. Dressing appropriately ensures that you are not only fitting in (no one wants to stick out like a tourist), but also that you are being respectful to a culture other than your own.

It's easy to dress with respect with a little planning ahead. Planning on visiting a church in Italy, like the Vatican? Make sure you are wearing pants (linen pants are perfect for a mid-summer trip) or a long skirt. Shoulders also need to be covered up, so bring along a sweater you can easily put on when you arrive.

This past trip was my first time visiting the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey. I wore a long skirt and brought along a sweater and a scarf, so I could cover my shoulders and wrap my head for when we went inside. This is the rule and expected etiquette of women visiting the mosque--and if you are aware of this requirement before visiting, it ensures you will have a flawless visit to this stunning destination.

Carry A Roomy and Comfortable Bag

Having the right bag can truly make your travels abroad so much smoother. I lucked out with finding a medium-sized, zippered cross-body bag for my trip. The bag was comfortable enough to hang on my shoulder all day without causing any additional discomfort than what I already feel with my regular purse at home.

The purse I used was big enough for my Canon Rebel camera, iPhone, passport, and daily essentials. I was even able to stash my sweater in it, which made it so much easier to bring with me wherever we went (in case it was needed).

A comfy cross-body bag is important to have when traveling abroad because it means you have to carry less things in your hands. With a large enough bag, you can easily fit small knick-knacks you've purchased throughout the day without having to carry them in your hand (which increases your chances of accidentally leaving them somewhere).

Plan Your Days with Enough Time

Always leave enough time to get from Point A to Point B when traveling abroad. Methods of travel that we are less familiar with here in the U.S., like trains and buses, are very common (though sometimes unreliable) means of travel in Europe.

Our first full day on the cruise took us to the port near Toulon, France, where we booked a round-trip train ticket from the Toulon train station to Aix-en-Provence. Although our ship docked at 7:00am, we still did not have enough time to catch a cab (there were none available at the port) and make it to the train station for our 7:51am train. Luckily, we were able to get on a train only an hour or so later.

This delay left us only a couple hours in Aix-en-Provence, and soon enough we were back at the train station waiting for our train to Marseille (the "layover" stop we had to make before heading back to Toulon). This train, however, was a no-show. No explanation, no delay--it just didn't show up. We were able to get on a later train to Marseille, which already put us close to missing our "layover" train.

When we arrived in Marseille, our original train to Toulon was also delayed. We ended up hopping on a train that was leaving earlier than the original train we were booked for (the now-delayed train), with hopes that it truly was going to Toulon. This train stopped for about 10 minutes due to mechanical errors, then continued on to its trip to Toulon.

At the stop right before the Toulon train station (and already later in the day than we expected to be back to Toulon), the train made another unexpected stop. This stop at the La Seyne-Six-Fours station lasted about 20 minutes, and we were unsure about what was going on (and also how we were going to proceed from there). Luckily, we were able to find out from a friendly woman on board that there was a train accident at Toulon, and the train was unable to move any further.

At this point, my blood pressure started to rise, and I began to go over all options on what my cousin and I should do in my head. We exited the train station in hopes to find a taxi to take us to the port in Toulon. Unfortunately, there were no taxis available. The international dialing did not work on my phone (despite having it added before leaving the U.S.), so we were fortunate to have a local woman call a cab for us. The cab took several minutes to arrive, took us to the wrong port, and we hit rush-hour traffic. Surprisingly, we made it back to our ship only minutes before departure, feeling extremely stressed and panicked, but also full of gratitude and thankfulness for making it back safely.

This experience taught us not only to leave more than enough time, but also these two things:
    • Trains are very unreliable. Don't limit yourself to one method of travel--be open to all options if necessary, and be prepared with a back-up transportation plan to fall back on.
    • Learn to just go with it. There are situations with traveling abroad that are out of our control, and no good comes out of a problem when it is handled ineffectively.

Always Carry Bottled Water

If you're like me and you need water around at all times, traveling can be tough when you can't easily find cold, bottled water. Grabbing a cold bottle of water in the morning is a great way to start your day traveling, whether it's by train, bus, or on foot. Having water in your hand (or in your purse) means that you'll stay hydrated and refreshed when walking around in any season's weather.

Many restaurants in Europe do not offer large glasses of water like they do in the U.S.--so remember to order still (or sparkling, depending on your preference) water when you sit down at a restaurant. It will usually be bottled, but at least it means you can take it with you when you leave.

Keep An Open Mind

Traveling abroad can either be done with ignorance or an open mind. Travel with an open mind and fully immerse yourself in the culture to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Try the local cuisine and the customary drinks, speak the local language when you can, and just be present. It can be hard to put yourself in the moment and think am I really here?, but if you can take a few seconds of each day and be in the present moment, enjoying every minute of what you are experiencing in another country, you will find that each, small moment has the capacity to change your life--for the better.

What advice do you have for others traveling internationally? Do you have any crazy travel stories from abroad? Let us know in the comments below!

Categories: Life & Style

Tagged: Travel, europe, traveling abroad, women traveling

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